Above: “Inner Beauty”

Bodymades: the essence and anatomy of David Cronenberg’s latest NFT

The acclaimed director shines light on the unseen parts of the human experience.

Mar 29, 2022 Artist Profiles / Profiles

Oliver Scialdone
3 months ago

Clustered atop a matte aluminum table, eighteen stones of varied sizes and textures form a constellation ranging in hue from pale cream to rich hickory. One may imagine that this group of objects is an arrangement of souvenir sedimentary rocks gathered during a sand-strewn getaway, visualizing the delighted collector pocketing the jagged orbs, each with its own unique structure and grain, like gypsum rose scattered about the path of a desert stroll. If only their acquisition were so idyllic. These tightly bunched, beige-toned relics are actually kidney stones personally collected over the course of a two-year period by acclaimed film director David Cronenberg, and the photograph depicting them is the primary element of his second NFT, titled “Inner Beauty.”

Cronenberg, widely known for his seminal contributions to the body horror film genre, returns to SuperRare with a new work that makes reference to his cinematic exploration of the grotesque, while also aiming to highlight the natural artistry of the human body. The piece was conceived on a whim as the Toronto-based director was engaged in conversation with a friend regarding their shared affliction with kidney stones. His friend was anxious about the inevitability of their passing, but Cronenberg had already endured the ordeal many times over. Having collected them in a pill bottle, an act that unconsciously mimicked the creation of the Brundle Museum of Natural History from his film, “The Fly,” Cronenberg poured the tiny mineral deposits, the largest measuring 5mm in diameter, onto a table and snapped a photo to send to his friend. In doing so, he was struck by their natural allure. “When I looked at the photo I thought, ‘this is oddly beautiful.’ It’s strange. It looks like sea creatures.” In that moment, an intentionality was sparked and he began looking at the arrangement with new eyes, testing multiple camera lenses to find the best one for magnifying and capturing the tiny stones.

“The Fly” (1986) dir. David Cronenberg

Cronenberg recognizes that he often returns to previously explored concepts as new technologies and awareness develop, a practice that he linked back to the New York underground filmmakers of the 1950’s and ‘60s. In that light, it comes as no surprise that the title of this NFT directly references a line from his 1988 film, “Dead Ringers,” in which one of Jeremy Irons’ twin characters laments the fact that there are no beauty contests for the inner landscape of the human body. The director paraphrased the character’s statement with a pertinent question: “Why don’t we have an aesthetic for the inside of our bodies? Because that is of our essence as well.” 

With “Inner Beauty,” Cronenberg shifts the conception of kidney stones away from their being indicators of some dysfunction within the body, instead finding wonder and excitement in the body expressing itself as a result of what one has ingested. In fact, marveling at the mysterious feats of the human body was something potentially in his subconscious when the photograph was taken. He’d recently wrapped filming his upcoming movie, “Crimes of the Future,” which features a performance artist who performs surgery on himself, publicly extracting new organs with no known function. While he was reluctant to reveal too much about the new film, it is apparent that the keenly creative director is very much interested in the duality of the grotesque as simultaneously macabre and beautiful, always allowing for abundant breadth within that spectrum.

“Discussions of the human body in my filmmaking have nothing to do with genre. It doesn’t have to do with horror film or not horror film, gangster film, whatever. It has to do with my constant exploration of what it is to be a human being. What is the human condition? And for me it’s always body-centric.”

DAVID CRONENBERG

“Dead Ringers” (1988) dir. David Cronenberg

With “Inner Beauty,” Cronenberg offers a new kind of story, one that is decidedly more personal than any other of his offerings. In the Artist’s Statement, titled “Kidney Stones and Inner Beauty,” which accompanies the primary image of the NFT, he writes, “I see in these kidney stones a luminous narrative generated by a group of my inner organs, a narrative as intimate as a person could imagine.” Indeed, it doesn’t get much more intimate than objects formed by and within one’s own body, and in fact, the artist offers to take it a step further, having expressed his willingness to provide the owner of the NFT with the collection of physical kidney stones. “I mean, it’s got my DNA in it. That’s certainly true. So that’s an issue in this case—I guess any art object, a sculpture that a sculptor has done, you’d think it would have their DNA on it, just physically.”

But the existence of the physical objects begs a question: why choose to mint this photo as an NFT, as opposed to offering the physical kidney stones on a traditional marketplace? The answer comes down to presentation. While he could easily hand the stones to a buyer, he views the photo as the primary element of the piece. It captures and highlights the beauty of the stones as art objects and is supported by his accompanying statement; the resulting combination of these elements can be best packaged and presented as an NFT. He asserts that it is the context in which the work is presented that makes it art. 

“It really opens up again the question of, and it’s very fascinating, where is the value in a work of art? Is it in its physicality? In its meaning? Is it in its ownership?” 

DAVID CRONENBERG

“Fountain” by Marcel Duchamp

“Robness Urinal” by Max Osiris

While Cronenberg recognizes that kidney stones may not fit the normal concept of art, he maintains that by intentionally removing them from their original context and providing a new one, they are elevated to this status, making a conscious nod to Duchamp’s readymades and perhaps, though inadvertently, the more recent Trash Art movement, where artists appropriate found digital imagery in a manner Duchamp would approve of. Calling attention to the exciting and unimaginable prospects that new innovations like blockchains and VR can afford the art world, Cronenberg largely embraces the possibilities of the future while keeping an eye on the fundamental questions that have always existed within artistic exploration. “For me,” he stated, “the whole NFT thing induces a wonderful philosophical investigation of what the reality of art is.”

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Collin Frazier

Collin Frazier is a Brooklyn-based writer, podcaster, and mixologist. He obtained his MFA from The New School and his work can be found in Epiphany Magazine.

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